In These Times has a pretty interesting article up, “Girls Gone Anti-Feminist,” by Susan J. Douglas, and though I had some problems with the article, I thought I’d post it as a good segue into a topic I’ve been meaning to explore here on my blog.  Why aren’t all women feminists?

First, some things everyone should know (and they’re all in the article):

  • “In 1999, the top five jobs for women did not include attorney, surgeon or CEO. They were, in order, secretaries, retail and personal sales workers (including cashiers), managers and administrators, elementary school teachers and registered nurses. Farther down among the top 20 were bookkeepers, receptionists, cooks and waitresses.”
  • “In 2007, the top five jobs for women were, still, secretaries in first place, followed by registered nurses, elementary and middle school teachers, cashiers and retail salespersons.  Farther down the line? Maids, child care workers, office clerks and hairdressers. Not a CEO or hedge fund manager in sight.”
  • “A year out of college, [women] earn 80 percent of what men make. And 10 years out? A staggering 69 percent.”
  • The national median income for women in 2008 was $36,000 a year, 23 percent less than their male counterparts.
  • “In the United States, we have the flimsiest support network for mothers and children of any industrialized country, nearly 2 million women are assaulted each year by a husband or boyfriend, and 18 percent of women have reported being the victim of a completed or attempted rape.”
  • “White women still make 75 cents to a man’s dollar, and it’s 62 cents for Black women and only 53 cents for Latinas. The majority of families with children in poverty are headed by single women.”

The article as a whole is more about how the media and the entertainment industry are operating as if we’re in this mystical “post-feminist” society (meaning that everything that the feminist movement wanted to accomplish has been accomplished and we don’t have to worry about it anymore), and in doing so, has become distinctly anti-feminist.  This delusion is dragging many, many young women down, so that fewer and fewer of them are aware of the injustices they face everyday, and hardly any would identify as “feminist.”

But the facts are hard to deny.

So the question remains:  why are women so afraid to identify as feminists?

My own experience with this “phenomenon” is pretty depressing, though I imagine that it’s similar to what every self-identified feminist goes through.  I can honestly say I wasn’t entirely aware of the stigma surrounding the word “feminist” until recently, so I’ve touted myself as such since a fairly young age.  However, after a while I started to pick up on how people react when the situation arises where I have to identify as a feminist.  Believe me, it was a shocker when I found out that not all women are feminists, and even more of a shocker when I found out that, in truth, not many women are feminists at all (or at least not many are willing to proclaim themselves as such).  I constantly hear, “Well, I’m not really a feminist” (even worse if they tack on the phrase “like you” at the end of that declaration).  I have friends and family members who feel the need to occasionally identify me as a feminist (sometimes they adorn it with lovely adjectives like “militant” or “hardcore,” even though I really wouldn’t describe myself in that manner) to people who don’t know me that well, sometimes as a way to brush off some “ludicrous” opinion I have.  I have no problem with them calling me a feminist, and clearly I wear that badge, no problems.  But why should that be such a distinguishing characteristic?  And why do they often say it like a disclaimer, as if it’s some sort of warning to others?

It seems that this notion that feminists are humorless, ugly, gay, mean, man-haters, etc., has rooted itself deeply into our culture.  I’m not humorless (at least I don’t think so; I won Best Non-Musical Act for my stand-up in the talent show senior year of high school – la dee dah), and I’ve met some hysterical feminists (there are many, many funny ladies who I’d label feminists, including my favorite stand-up comedian, Maria Bamford, and Tina Fey, not to mention the commenters on feminist pop culture website Jezebel, who are often hysterical).  I think that there are plenty of attractive feminists out there, including many celebrities.  There are many gay feminists, but to say that every feminist is a lesbian is to say that every man who figure skates or does musical theater is gay (in case you were wondering, that’s also not true).  I don’t think that feminists are mean.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  Because they stand for equal rights, they tend to be very accepting and willing to take on the causes of any group of people who are treated unfairly.  The idea that all feminists are man-haters is particularly irritating.  I’m not going to lie and say that there aren’t women out there who hate men.  That’s just as absurd as saying that there aren’t men who hate women.  However, to characterize all feminists as man-haters is unfair.  The vast, vast majority of feminists are all for gender equality, which would afford women and men equal rights, equal wages, equal treatment under the law, etc.  In fact, I’ve seen and heard of feminists sticking up for the rights of men, as well.  Feminists in Great Britain helped to get men a paternity leave at work.  We don’t want to “rule” the men, nor do we want to “make up for” the years of oppression we’ve suffered through.  We just want the same rights as them.  Simple as that.

Of course, the fact that I’m attempting to debunk some common opinions about feminists on my inconsequential little blog isn’t going to do much in the way of convincing women to accept the title of “feminist.”  I realize that, and I realize just how omnipresent and dynamic the “ew, feminism” stigma is.  To illustrate, here are a few comments left on the post on OhNoTheyDidn’t where I found the “Girls Gone Anti-Feminist” article (I’ll include the username of the person that said it, because that seems like a fair “quote attribution” tactic):

“A lot of people I talk to have the basic beliefs that make them feminists, and they pretty much know the true definition of the term, but they still don’t think they’re feminists because equality of the sexes isn’t something they think about very often.” –strictlytrash

“I hate the fact that if I tell someone, even my female friends, that I’m a feminist, they all jump down my throats. So what if I’m a feminist? It doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than a man, it means that I think I’m equal to a man.  I don’t understand women who aren’t feminists. If someone wants to tell me why they aren’t, I’m willing to listen, but most of the time, they just make a joke and change the subject. It’s like they aren’t feminists because people will make fun of them.” –theartistprince

“I know what being a feminist means, I just don’t know enough about every little aspect to call myself something. I prefer to know everything before I do something, calling myself a feminist without knowing everything about it would be the same to me as calling myself a Buddhist without knowing anything about it.” –etacanis

“Any female who says she isn’t a feminist is dumb. I know a lot of males who also consider themselves feminist. Who likes inequality?” –devolute

“[M]y gay friend gave me the most surprised and disgusted look when I ~casually told him I’m feminist, then said, “Well, just don’t preach to me.” I didn’t say anything else, it was strange.” –infidelkast

“I’m taking a women’s studies class right now and out of a group of about 40 men and women, only me and one other girl raised our hands when the teacher asked who considered themselves a feminist.” –revenantrose

“I hate that people treat feminism as such a bad word. It does not mean I’m a man-hating, cold, evil person neither does it mean I count on my looks and sexuality instead of brains. You can be a feminst [sic] and still be sexually active, wear skirts or watch certain tv shows, that’s not what makes you an anti-feminst [sic]; saying that you are inferior to men makes you one.” –iamashamed

The bottom line is this:  women (and men) should not have to feel ashamed because they believe in equal rights.  We’re not living in a post-feminist society right now, no matter what some deluded people say.  Feminism is just as important today as it ever was, and now we have the added hurdle of this “post-feminist” myth to jump.  It’s hard enough to make people care about feminism, period, but when almost everyone thinks that it’s completely unnecessary nowadays, it only makes it more difficult.

Here’s how you know if you’re a feminist:

  1. Are you a human?
  2. Do you believe that all humans are created equal and should be afforded equal opportunities?
  3. Specifically, do you believe that women should have the same opportunities and rights that men do?
  4. Do you think that women have the right to their own bodies, to do with them as they choose?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then congratulations, you’re a feminist.  Now, go get yourself educated and start wearing that “feminist” badge with pride.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you can adorn the badge with anything you want.  Let it mean what you want it to mean, as long as it means freedom and equality for women.  You don’t have to be an escort at an abortion clinic, or picket outside Rush Limbaugh’s house, or change your major to Women’s Studies, or read every one of bell hook’s books, or start dropping phrases like “male gaze,” “gender roles,” “reproductive rights,” or “patriarchy” into your everyday conversations (although I’m sure it’d be helpful if you knew what those terms referred to).  But don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re a feminist, and don’t be afraid to tell them why.

Other resources:

Bonus Kate Beaton comic (because it’s funny and on topic).

Finally, this quote from an awesome interview with Gloria Steinem:

LA Times:  Far and away most women believe in equal pay, equal rights, equal treatment, and yet they may shrink from the word “feminist.” How did it become a no-go?

Gloria Steinem:  Because it’s been demonized by the right wing. Every time I can bear to turn on Rush Limbaugh, he’s talking about femi-Nazis. It has been distorted, just as “liberal” has.